Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Traveling Gnome - Staying in Touch Made Fun


Dad "goes" to the Roman Coliseum with me
I was about a month into my study abroad adventure, when a package arrived from home bearing a backpack I'd forgotten and a.....how do I phrase this politely....slightly unflattering picture of my father. I didn't know it then, but that photo would be my ticket to making my study abroad trip as fun for my parents as it was for me.

These days it's not so hard to keep in touch while traveling. In this digital age, there are options aplenty--be it video calling with Skype or Google Voice, calling cards, postcards, email or creating a blog.  All of these methods are great ways to keep your family and friends involved in your adventures. But the list doesn't stop there-- there is another unique option available to you, as I discovered with my father's picture.

If you haven't heard of it before, the 'traveling gnome' is a well-known travel prank in which a garden gnome is stolen and photographed at famous landmarks, with the photos then being sent back to the owner. From the gnome subplot in the film 'Amélie' to being featured as a mascot with the online travel agency, Travelocity, the traveling gnome is no stranger to popularity. 

Tour in London "with" Dad
It only took one look at my dad's picture to know that it would be accompanying me in the same fashion as the traveling gnome. It seems my father had the same idea--after I got a hold of him to ask why he would send a picture of himself, he told me it was so that he could "see" and "go" to every place that I did. I'm not sure if he realized it, but that truly touched my heart. 

Expenses being what they were meant that I wouldn't see my family until I returned home and unlike myself, my parents had never been able to travel overseas. I knew early on that my year studying abroad would also be theirs in a way.  Everything I learned and experienced, would equal a lesson and journey for them as well. Keeping them involved was the least I could do-- not to mention that making your traveling companion(s) snap these types of photos can be quite hilarious. 

Traveling alone? Don't let that stop you - there were numerous occasions where I was exploring solo and took my own photograph or had a passerby help out. Don't be afraid to ask. Most people will get a kick out of what you're doing and might even ask you about it (I had this happen numerous times). Obviously, it goes without saying to use your street smarts and traveler's instincts when handing over your camera. Do you really want to have chase someone down the Champs-Élysées in Paris? I didn't think so.

Needless to say, my dad loved seeing all the places he'd "been" with me. Every new blog update I would send him would include the new photos so that he could boast to friends and family where he'd been "traveling." This always made me smile --not only was I having a blast, but so were the people most important in my life. A girl can't ask for more than that.

The 'traveling gnome' photographs of my father and myself now occupy a large picture frame in our family home, with the original photograph at its center.No matter how many times I see it, it's a constant reminder of how unbelievably lucky I've been. Sure, they're just a bunch of photographs, but it's what they signify that makes them special. So whichever option you choose to stay connected while abroad, remember one thing: no matter how far you go, keep in mind the ones that helped you to get there. They might just be your own 'traveling gnome' in waiting.

Yep, Dad was "at" the Louvre in Paris, too